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Congressional Concerns on Iraq Force Out Top US Military Officers

08 June 2007

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has decided not to ask the president to re-nominate the top two U.S. military officers to their posts, in order to avoid a contentious Senate confirmation process related to the war in Iraq. VOA's Al Pessin reports from the Pentagon.

Secretary Gates announced his selection of Admiral Mike Mullen as the next Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. And then he made this somewhat startling statement about the current Chairman, General Peter Pace.

"It had been my intention from early in my tenure to recommend to the president that General Pace be re-nominated for another two-year term as chairman," he said.

Secretary Gates said he would have asked President Bush to re-nominate General Pace, but in consultation with Republican and Democratic Party members of the senate he learned that the confirmation process would have been contentious, and, in the secretary's words, would have focused "on the past, rather than the future."

"I am no stranger to contentious confirmations and I do not shrink from them," he added. "However, I have decided that at this moment in our history, the nation, our men and women in uniform and General Pace himself would not be well served by a divisive ordeal in selecting the next Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff."

General Pace has been Chairman or Vice-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs for the last six years, and hearings and debate on his re-confirmation would have involved a re-examination of the conduct of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"I am disappointed that circumstances make this kind of a decision necessary. I wish that that were not the case," he said. "I wish it were not necessary to make a decision like this, but I think it's a realistic appraisal of where we are."

Secretary Gates said General Pace will retire when his term ends in September, after more than 40 years in the U.S. Marines.

The officer who will be nominated to succeed General Pace, Admiral Mike Mullen, has been Chief of U.S. Naval Operations for nearly two years. He has also served as commander of U.S. and NATO naval forces, and graduated from an advanced management program at Harvard University.

"I have become well acquainted with Admiral Mullen over the past six months, and believe he has the vision, strategic insight, experience and integrity to lead America's armed forces," he noted.

Secretary Gates also announced that he will ask the president to nominate Marine Corps General James Cartwright to be Vice-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. General Cartwright is pilot, and has been serving as commander of U.S. strategic bomber and missile forces for the last three years.

Secretary Gates said the current vice-chairman, Admiral Edmund Giambastiani, could not continue in his post once another admiral was chosen as chairman. Gates said he offered Giambastiani another senior job, but the admiral declined and decided to retire.

The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is the senior military adviser to the president and the defense secretary. He also chairs the committee made up of the chiefs of the four U.S. military services, who are responsible for managing the services and recruiting, training and equipping forces for assignment to operational commanders around the world.

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